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2009 Science Honours

The 2009 Science Honours Dinner was held in the Princes Ballroom, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Auckland on Wednesday 18 November 2009.

The country’s highest science and technology award, the Rutherford Medal , was awarded to internationally renowned biomedical engineer Professor Peter Hunter FRS, FRSNZ, of The University of Auckland for his revolutionary approach to modelling the human body. 

The top award for achievement in technology, the Pickering Medal , was awarded to Professor Kenneth McNatty FRSNZ from Victoria University of Wellington for his contribution to the field of reproductive biology, with products having been commercialised from his work.

The Thomson Medal was awarded to Dr Richard Garland , managing director of New Zealand Pharmaceuticals Ltd, for his outstanding leadership in the development and application of science and technology to New Zealand business development. 

The Hutton Medal for earth sciences was awarded to Professor Colin Wilson FRSNZ from Victoria University of Wellington for his outstanding work on volcanism. Professor Wilson’s research aims to better understand volcanic activity so adequate warnings of eruptions can be given.

This year’s Te Rangi Hiroa Medal for excellence in social sciences was awarded to Professor Ian Pool FRSNZ of the University of Waikato for his demographic research on Māori fertility and family formation, the theory of age-structural transition, the measurement of mortality and morbidity, and the relationship between population and development. 

Professor Peter Steel FRSNZ from the University of Canterbury was honoured with the Hector Medal for the advancement of chemical sciences, for his world renowned work in the field of metallosupramolecular chemistry leading to potential applications in medicine and nanotechnology. 

The RJ Scott Medal for engineering sciences and technology was awarded to Paul Harris of Industrial Research Limited in Lower Hutt for his significant contributions to the development and application of electronic devices in New Zealand.

The Science Honours Dinner is organised by the Royal Society of New Zealand, whose prime purpose is to promote excellence in science and technology.

 

Full list of the 2009 awards, with citations and details of winners’ work 

Rutherford Medal – for an exceptional contribution to New Zealand society in science and technology: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Peter John Hunter FRS, FRSNZ of The University of Auckland

Citation: Professor Peter John Hunter FRSNZ has pioneered a new approach to modelling the human body using simulations that span biological levels all the way from genes to the whole organ. He has shown outstanding leadership in advancing New Zealand biomedical science and engineering.

Description of work: Outstanding research by Professor Peter Hunter of The University of Auckland was recognised by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s highest scientific prize, the 2009 Rutherford Medal for science and technology. As a biomedical engineer, his work combines engineering, mathematical and computational tools to model the human body. Professor Hunter initiated and led the development of mathematical modelling techniques that are providing the computational basis for a virtual human, right down to the genetic level. His ground-breaking research will eventually help advance treatments for a number of life-threatening diseases. The award acknowledges Professor Hunter’s outstanding leadership of the Bioengineering Institute, as well as his efforts in promoting and advancing the field, both at home and abroad.

Pickering Medal – to recognise excellence and innovation in the practical application of technology: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Kenneth Pattrick McNatty FRSNZ of Victoria University of Wellington

Professor Kenneth McNatty, also received $15,000 from the Royal Society of New Zealand to further his research.

Citation: Awarded to Professor Kenneth Pattrick McNatty FRSNZ for his outstanding contribution in the field of reproductive biology. He has enhanced our knowledge of ovarian function and products commercialised from his work have had a major impact on animal production and fertility management.

Description of work: The highest award for achievement in technology, the Pickering Medal, was awarded to Professor Kenneth McNatty from Victoria University of Wellington, for his contribution to the field of reproductive biology. His work has led to the discovery of an entirely new class of proteins that regulate ovulation and the development of new therapeutic and diagnostic methods for the management of reproduction in humans and animals. Professor McNatty’s current work focuses on the effects of environmental contaminants on reproduction, and his research aims to provide greater insights into the effects of nutrients, chemicals and pollutants that may affect fertility including that of endangered species. Professor McNatty has enhanced knowledge of ovarian function and the products of his work have had a major impact on animal production and fertility management. His innovation, foresight and abilities have led to commercialised products that have contributed over $100 million to the New Zealand economy each year.

Thomson Medal – for outstanding and inspirational leadership in the management of science: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Dr Richard Pelham Garland

Dr Richard Garland also received $15,000 from the Royal Society of New Zealand to further his research.

Citation: Awarded to Dr Richard Pelham Garland for outstanding and inspirational leadership in the development and application of science and technology to the New Zealand business development, in particular developing a niche fine chemical industry using local expertise, raw materials and capital.

Description of work: The Thomson Medal awarded to Dr Richard Garland continues the recognition of notable New Zealanders who are outstanding leaders in science innovation and commercialisation. Dr Garland is Managing Director of New Zealand Pharmaceuticals Ltd (NZP), in Palmerston North, a manufacturer and exporter of pharmaceutical intermediates and diagnostics products for the world’s leading pharmaceuticals and biotechnology companies. NZP’s business uses by-products from the meat industry to make a number of biochemicals, with the main end-use being in a drug used to treat liver disease. Dr Garland built NZP to become a successful and rapidly expanding business, boosting New Zealand’s yearly exports by over $50 million. Recently NZP diversified into building expertise in complex carbohydrates, and in 2008 built a plant to make such chemicals in compliance with the exacting standards of the international drug industry. Dr Garland’s company recently acquired Dextra, a UK company specialising in synthesizing complex carbohydrates for the drug discovery industry which will lead to additional manufacturing opportunities at the New Zealand plant.

Hutton Medal – for excellence in earth sciences: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Colin James Ness Wilson FRSNZ of Victoria University of Wellington

Citation: Awarded to Professor Colin James Ness Wilson FRSNZ for his outstanding work on New Zealand volcanism. 

Description of work: The Hutton Medal for earth sciences was awarded to Professor Colin Wilson FRSNZ from Victoria University of Wellington for his outstanding work on volcanism. Professor Wilson’s research aims to better understand the effects of volcanic activity so that adequate warnings of impending eruptions can be given. Currently based in Wellington, his work ultimately aims to minimise the potentially devastating effects of eruptions. Since viewing these events first-hand is obviously not an option, Wilson looks at what’s been left behind—analysing products like pumice and ash. He describes his work as “a kind of forensic science applied to sleeping or dead volcanoes rather than dead people, you might say it’s like CSI: Taupo”. His research is carried out in New Zealand, at volcanoes in Taupo, and overseas on supervolcanoes in Alaska, California and Yellowstone. He is recognised as one of New Zealand’s most highly-regarded earth scientists and is known as one of the world’s foremost and influential physical volcanologists.

Te Rangi Hiroa Medal – to recognise excellence in the social sciences: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand awarded to Professor (David) Ian Pool FRSNZ from the University of Waikato.

Citation: Awarded to Professor David Ian Pool FRSNZ for research in the demography of Māori, fertility and family formation, the theory of age structural transition, the measurement of mortality and morbidity, and the relationship between population and development. 

Description of work: This year’s Te Rangi Hiroa Medal was awarded to Professor Ian Pool FRSNZ from the University of Waikato for his demographic research on Māori fertility and family formation, the theory of age-structural transition, the measurement of mortality and morbidity and the relationship between population and development. Hamilton-based Professor Pool’s research looks at mapping the histories of New Zealand’s populations from Captain Cook’s time until the present, researching such details as population growth and geographic distribution within New Zealand. Pool has published more than 150 papers, books and monographs. He has authored, co-authored or edited six books including Te Iwi Maori , and The New Zealand Family from 1840: A Demographic History . He has also authored, co-authored or edited 14 refereed monographs. Writing in the journal Population Studies, former Government statistician Len Cook suggested Pool’s work as “likely to remain without peer in New Zealand as a critical reference source for many years”. Professor Pool is a member of IUSSP, a scientific committee that analyses age-structural transitions across the world. The committee was established by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population and Paris-based organisation (CICRED). Along with other members, Pool edited several books on the topic. His studies play a central role in helping New Zealanders better understand their past and prepare for the future. He was awarded a James Cook Fellowship for 2004-06.

Hector Medal – for an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the chemical sciences: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Peter Steel FRSNZ

Citation: Awarded to Professor Peter Steel FRSNZ for his world renowned research in the field of metallosupramolecular chemistry leading to potential applications in medicine and nanotechnology.

Description of work: Professor Peter Steel of the University of Canterbury was honoured with the Hector Medal. Professor Steel FRSNZ is world renowned in the field of metallosupramolecular chemistry, which is concerned with the synthesis and properties of large assemblies of organic molecules held together by metal atoms. These fascinating macromolecules can behave as nanoscale flasks within which one can isolate individual molecules. The research has potential applications in the fields of catalysis, drug delivery and nanotechnology. In Christchurch currently, Steel is researching the assembly of new supramolecular structures with unusual architectures, such as cages, boxes, rings, chains, necklaces and ladders, as well as the discovery of new interactions to hold together such species.

RJ Scott Medal – for outstanding contribution to engineering sciences and technology: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Paul David Harris of Industrial Research Limited

Citation: Awarded to Paul David Harris for his significant contributions to the development and application of electronic devices in New Zealand.

Description of work: The RJ Scott Medal for engineering sciences and technology was awarded to Paul Harris of Industrial Research Limited in Lower Hutt for his exceptional work in the advancement of engineering science in New Zealand. Harris has made a number of significant contributions to the development and application of electronic devices. He describes his work as “firstly gaining an understanding of the issues and physics involved with a problem and then development of instrumentation to realise a solution”. Most often he designs custom electronics to acquire the sensor signals and signal-processing software to make sense of them, and develops the instrumentation so that the outcome is useful for industry. This work has lead to new applications and products such as stiffness grading in forestry, dynamometers for tuning cars and cool store humidity measurement. Harris leads a research programme in ultrasonics addressing fundamental aspects of how acoustic waves propagate within solid materials and the design and fabrication of miniature ultrasonic transducers for high resolution, real-time imaging. His work resulted in the formation of three companies that manufacture this equipment, with substantial economic benefit for New Zealand.